No complaint left behind

Categories: National

You can't displease everybody all of the time, but the federal education reform No Child Left Behind, which President Bush once referred to as "the cornerstone of my administration," is doing a bang-up job of generating frowns and curses from coast to coast.

According to a report released Wednesday by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Civil Society Institute based in Newton, Massachusetts, a "grassroots rebellion" against NCLB has spread to 47 of the 50 states. And after declaring that three states--Utah, Colorado, and Connecticut--are in "open revolt" against the law, the CSI report cites Minnesota as one of five states that is "most likely to flare up during the 2005-06 school year."

"There is a lot of skepticism about NCLB among legislators in Minnesota," confirms Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), who was one of six people contacted by CSI to respond to the report during Wednesday's phone-in press conference, and also spoke to City Pages the next day.

Staunch conservatives such as Sen. Michelle Bachmann oppose NCLB because it allows the federal government to dictate education policy to local school districts. Others, including Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is preparing to file suit against NCLB, claim that the statute creates unfunded mandates that place an illegal financial burden on the states.

But Greiling says she and many of her DFL colleagues oppose NCLB because it is disingenuous--a "wolf in sheep's clothing," as she put it during Wednesday's press conference. Claiming that the law "has been set up so struggling schools can't possibly succeed," Greiling pointedly noted that, "The strongest advocates of No Child Left Behind, including the governor of Minnesota, have cut funding for many of the programs that would truly help struggling students succeed, like early childhood education, special education, and after school programs."

As for Minnesota being a battleground state during the coming school year, Greiling told City Pages that "the pressure was immense on republicans not to buck NCLB" during the last legislative session in St. Paul. At that time, a bill was passed in the senate that addressed 13 reforms proposed by special NCLB task force of the National Conference of State Legislators. Among them was the need to measure the progress of each individual student (a "growth model" or "value added" approach) from one year to the next rather than comparing test scores of a school's eighth graders in 2003 versus that school's eighth graders in 2004; ensuring that one student wouldn't be counted two or three different times (as both a minority, in special education, and as an english language learner, for example); and that schools be measured according to three-year averages instead of annually.

"That bill passed in the senate, but in the house, I couldn't even get a hearing for it," Greiling says. "The reforms were all pretty common sense things, things supported by a task force representing all 50 states. But Washington and Governor Pawlenty didn't want it considered. I don't know if conservatives kowtowed to that or whether they figured out that NCLB is really about breaking the backs of public schools and promoting vouchers, which they support. But I expect the issue will come up again [next session]."

For a copy of the CSI report, entitled "NCLB Left Behind: Understanding the Growing Grassroots Rebellion Against a Controversial Law," and a streaming audio of Wednesday press conference, go to www.nclbgrassroots.org.

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